Having completed its merchandising and buying graduate programme, Alberto Schena is now a buyer for TJX – which is behind the brands TK Maxx and Homesense. His career story features in TARGETjobs’ sister publication, the UK 300 , which showcases the most popular 300 graduate employers in the UK and includes interviews with a selection of employees from these organisations. Here at TARGETjobs, we've read his interview closely and used his advice to come up with five traits that are essential for merchandising and buying roles.
Quality number one: know your customer
Have you ever found yourself at a loss during a Christmas shopping trip, trying desperately to put yourself in the shoes of that tricky-to-buy-for friend or family member: what would I want if I were ten? Will all my relatives over the age of 50 need a pair of slippers? As a buyer and merchandiser, you’ll have to find the answers to these questions on a much wider scale. ‘It’s crucial that you know your customer and can understand different people from different backgrounds,’ reflects Alberto.
So, a successful buyer or merchandiser is one that can anticipate the desires of customers; this is one part of being commercially aware. Knowing the retail trends and getting to grips with the movements made by the competitors of the retailer you’re applying to should help with this.
Quality number two: the capacity to adapt to change
You won’t get very far if you only have an idea of what people want at Christmas, either. In merchandising and buying, you’ll have to keep on top of the trends and make changes on the basis of them quickly – whether that’s by choosing the products to purchase (as a merchandiser) or making decisions regarding how many of each item to buy at a particular time (as a buyer). So, being flexible and able to react to new circumstances quickly is another important quality for employees in this area of work.
Quality number three: entrepreneurial mindset
‘A buyer for TJX Europe is basically an entrepreneur,’ Alberto told us. ‘I find the ability to make a difference to the company with every decision I make to be empowering.’ While you’ll be responsible for gaining as much information as you can about customer behaviour and trends (in order to make calculated risks), you’ll ultimately be making decisions based on what you think will happen in the future; you’ll have to have the confidence to make these decisions.
Quality number four: problem-solving ability
As the previous point goes some way to highlighting, buying and merchandising isn’t about having all the facts or always getting it right. You’ll have to take risks and you’ll have to be able to respond effectively and efficiently when things don’t go to plan.
Alberto gave us an example of a time when this happened, during his early career: ‘I accidentally sent 500 pampas grass plants to a TKMaxx store that had recently opened in Harlow’. However, he provides a lesson in the way he dealt with the problem; he drove to Harlow and organised for the plants to be sent to other stores.
Quality number five: enthusiasm for working in buying or merchandising
Think about what inspires and drives you, then whether a position in buying or merchandising will provide this. Different parts of the role will provide a motivational force for different people. Perhaps you’re motivated by the success of picking out a perfect item for a customer, or – as in Alberto’s case – maybe you’re driven by the freedom to make your own decisions.
As Alberto suggests, work in buying and merchandising can be demanding: ‘the amount of time I spend travelling can make the job challenging at times’. Depending on the scale at which the retailer operates, you may be required to visit suppliers and stores across the UK – or abroad. So, being resilient and having the enthusiasm for the job that keep you motivated is important.
A final tip from Alberto: do your research
As a buyer or merchandiser, you’ll conduct research into customer behaviours, analyse your findings and use them to inform your action – what you buy or how much of each product you buy.
You can demonstrate your ability to research and apply your findings by finding out about the retailer and role and using this throughout the recruitment process. ‘I advise graduates to research companies before applying to their graduate schemes’, Alberto told us. Take a look at the website of the retailer and the job descriptions of buying and merchandising roles to discover the kind of buying carried out at the company. Different retailers work in different ways – whereas for some you might buy products months before they appear on the shop floor, for others you’ll be involved in buying and stocking new items on a weekly basis. TJX falls into the latter category.
You can then use the research throughout your application to make a case for your enthusiasm for the company and job role. Alberto reflects, ‘Recruiters like to see that a candidate is genuinely interested in their company.’ Particularly if you’re applying to a large retailer, searching for news stories about them (eg on the BBC or on retail-specific websites like Retail Week) should allow you to give reasons for why you want to work for the specific organisation in your application.
- Store visits are another great way of finding out about a retailer you’re applying to. Find out more about getting the most out of store visits with this TARGETjobs article.